Am I Still an Artist?

When I graduated college with a fine arts degree in painting, I assumed that I would always have a studio and painting would be a regular part of my life. Spoiler: that’s not what happened.

Shortly after graduation, I moved across the country to pursue an unpaid internship at a museum in New York. The hours that I wasn’t putting in at the museum were being spent working the night shift at the front desk of a hotel. I tried to sketch in the little downtime I had, but without a dedicated studio space, I was unable to unpack the paints I’d shipped across the country. I stopped painting. I was working in the arts and I was surrounded by art all day; I still considered myself an artist. “This is just temporary,” I thought. I’d start painting and exhibiting again one day soon, when I had more time.

Nearly 10 years later, I’d accumulated a master’s degree in arts management and a career in arts education, and my paints continued to collect dust in the garage. In my day job I worked with artists and I talked about art all day long - but I’d stopped making art almost entirely. The time that I thought I would find never appeared. Could I still call myself an artist?

After discussing my dilemma with several colleagues who all juggled day jobs working in non-profit arts management with evening and weekend directing and acting gigs, and one co-worker who is so dedicated to her painting practice that she committed to waking up at 4 am several times a week to get in studio time before coming to work—I realized that the time I was waiting for would never come, I had to create it. I asked one colleague how many hours she spent each week on her creative practice outside of her job. She thought about it and said 15-20 hours. If she was managing 15-20 hours each week on top of a 40+ hour work week, surely I could manage a few too.

With the help of a professional development stipend from EAL/LA, I signed up for a ceramics class thinking that maybe I needed something to jumpstart the creative drive I’d lost. After the first class, I left the studio feeling energized. I’d missed not only the creative process itself, but the satisfaction of making something with my hands and the community of a shared studio space. From there things snowballed. I was at the studio several times a week and often put in long hours on the weekends. I’d found my flow again, and suddenly I had plenty of time for my creative practice.

I have a studio again. I have an arts practice again.

I’m still an artist.

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